Netflix’s new documentary, “ReMastered: Tricky Dick & the Man in Black,” refers to President Richard M. Nixon and Johnny Cash, respectively.
The relatively short film (about 60 minutes) recounts the time Cash played before Nixon at the White House.
The documentary obfuscates almost everything about the event in question save an authentic glimpse at Cash’s rebellious nature.
It briefly covers the controversy surrounding the singer’s “Bitter Tears,” an album that focused on the suffering of American Indians. Most notably the Apache and Ira Hayes of the Pima, a Marine who helped hoist Old Glory on Iwo Jima in that famous photograph.
Conservatives have not done nearly enough to acknowledge the horrors done to North America’s indigenous people.
Any concession to the so-called Howard Zinn historical take feels like a concession to cultural Marxism (a pervasive ideology that the New York Times has astoundingly denied the existence of). Still, facts are facts. Conservativism should always have a hard head in conjunction with soft hands. We must acknowledge the truth and live with compassion.
And the truth is that the Indian wars were mostly an unnecessary and illiberal product of an imperialistic theology dubbed “Manifest Destiny.”
And along these lines “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” is one of Cash’s great songs. Whether he intended it or not, it’s a deeply conservative song. It acknowledges a true American hero along with the pain and isolation of his death. Sadness and tragedy are important aspects of human nature. Westerners often try to ignore or politicize pain. Neither response is correct from a conservative perspective.
It’s exactly what the team behind “Tricky Dicky & the Man in Black” are trying to do. They want to make Cash’s focus on pain and sadness political. But they don’t mention that his rebellious nature actually stemmed from his Christianity.
They ignore his controversial decision to say openly that he was a Christian on his TV show. They call him the man in black because they like that he was identifying with the marginalized sectors of society. But the third verse of the eponymous song makes clear this wasn’t some progressive virtue signal but rather a symbol of Christianity.
“I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.”
For Cash, wearing black meant death to self. It meant the cross of Christ. It wasn’t political. It was spiritual. Pointing to our sin and the crucified God that takes away all sin.
But that doesn’t fit the narrative. And when Nixon is involved the narrative is always the same for the left. The point of this documentary was the same as every other piece of media about Nixon: to be anti Nixon.
It’s boring, cliched and lazy.
Hollywood and Nixon: The Song Remains the Same
We saw this in last year’s remarkably blasé “The Post.” It’s dumb for a variety of reasons, most notable being that Nixon was one of our most liberal progressive presidents.
More on that later.
The documentary isn’t saying anything new. It’s actually repeating a tired progressive narrative about how Cash was too “woke” for that fascist Nixon.
According to Netflix, Nixon asked Cash to come play for him and the Man in Black stuck it to The Man. Left unsaid? If Cash were alive today he would sing for The Resistance, not praise President Trump a la Kanye West.
The rapper’s naive MAGA love is one reason “Tricky Dick & the Man in Black” exists.
The all too obvious irony being that Cash was a white man who wore black and according to the unbearable faux intellectual Ta-Nehisi Coates Kanye is a black man who has become “white.” Unfortunately for the filmmakers this narrative is false and its been perpetrated for almost 50 years.
On March 31, 1970 the New York Times ran a story with this headline “Johnny Cash Loath to Sing ‘Cadilac’ at the White House.”
From the Times:
Johnny Cash, singer of country songs, has told the White House that he does not want to sing the controversial ballad “Welfare Cadilac” at a social on April 17.
Welfare and civil rights leaders protested a requested performance of the ballad, which pokes fun at people on welfare and depicts a shiftless father who relies on “fool” tax payers to buy a new Cadillac. Mr. Nixon had requested the song after hearing it at the White House on tape of country music…
Mrs. Stuart said she had talked with Mr. Cash on the telephone and that he had made it clear that if the choice were his alone he would rather not sing “Welfare Cadilac,” which is spelled with one “1.” She said she had told him that the choice was his.
Mr. Nixon had also requested that Mr. Cash sing “Okie From Muskogee” and “A Boy Named Suc” [sic] before about 200 guests who will be attending the fourth in a series of evenings of entertainment at the White House. The dispute over “Welfare Cadilac” began when Herman L. Ycatman, Tennessee’s Welfare Commissioner, said that the song was derogatory to welfare recipients.
This is pretty much the story that Netflix told. And it needs to be noted that “Welfare Cadilac” is clearly not an indictment of welfare recipients. The term “welfare cadillac” was used to describe a real phenomenon where people who did not need welfare abused the system.
In this old episode of “Firing Line” then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan discusses some of these problems with William F. Buckley. But assessments of welfare programs aside, coloring all welfare recipients with this brush is simply wrong. And the song “Welfare Cadilac” is clearly mocking people who did that. It’s satirical.
More importantly, we have Cash’s own account of what actually happened. And it directly contradicts the NYT. From “Cash: The Autobiography” the singer writes:
Another part of the President’s introduction became notorious at the time. Someone on his staff had called the house of Cash, where my sister Reba handled my affairs, and told her that Mr. Nixon had asked that I sing three songs very popular at the time: “Welfare Cadillac,” [sic] Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee,” and my own “A Boy Named Sue.” Reba passed the request along to me, and I told her I’d be happy to do “Sue” but I couldn’t do either “Welfare Cadillac” or “Okie.” The issue wasn’t the songs’ messages, which at the time were lightning rods for antihippie and antiblack sentiment, but the fact that I didn’t know them and couldn’t learn them or rehearse them with the band before we had to leave for Washington. The request had come in too late. If it hadn’t, then the issue might have become [emphasis in original] the messages, but fortunately I didn’t have to deal with that.
Somehow, though, the news leaked to the press that I’d refused the president’s requests, and that was interpreted somewhere along the way to publication as an ideological skirmish. “CASH TELLS NIXON OFF!” was one headline, and the others pitched the same story.
Nixon understood perfectly why I’d really turned him down, but he played it up anyway. “One thing I’ve learned about Johnny Cash,” he told the White House audience, “is that you don’t tell him what to sing.”
It got a big laugh and made the press very happy.
He then goes on to describe Nixon:
He made a very good impression on me. I couldn’t detect any artifice or calculation about his friendliness and interest in me, or his enjoyment; it seemed to be the real thing. That, I thought, must be what made him the consummate politician: the ability to focus naturally, on whoever he was with and make them believe that at that moment they were the most important person in the world to him.
In that same chapter Cash briefly discusses all the presidents he met over the years (Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton). His personal opinion of them all is very positive. Cash approached people as people. Politics were not primary for him. Probably because he wasn’t really competent to make political judgments.
That isn’t a slight.
Most of us simply aren’t. These are two deeply conservative principles that today have been lost to most Americans: humility and charity.
And, of course, this documentary ignores both.
It revels in hubris and prejudice, making the case that on some level Cash was responsible for getting us out of Vietnam. He spoke truth to power and that pricked the conscience of the psychopathic Nixon.
This perpetuates the bizarre myth that Nixon was a hawkish dictator trying to burn up as many brown people as possible.
Nixon was no saint, to be sure.
And, similar to President Donald Trump, it was actually the conservatives of his day that were Nixon’s harshest critics. But Nixon wasn’t a bogey man trying to vicariously murder the First Amendment by stalking Woodward and Bernstein, as “All the President’s Men” would have us believe.
Unlike most U.S. presidents Nixon was a peacemaking, progressive statesman. Most presidents (regardless of party) campaign on peace. And then most (regardless of party) get involved in some kind of war.
Nixon, by comparison, got America out of Vietnam. He also negotiated a (very temporary) end to the conflict in Vietnam.
He opened lines of communication from the White House to hostile countries. During the Watergate scandal he successfully intervened in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war. Nixon’s administration was able to competently deal with numerous foreign nations along extremely complicated lines.
Will the Real Richard M. Nixon Please Stand Up?
In Conrad Black’s massive tome, “Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full,” he presents Nixon as the monumental and complex politician he was. The man occupied the White House for 13 years in total, having been Eisenhower’s VP from 53-61.
To this day he’s despised by genuine conservatives for being an economic Keynesian creating the EPA, firmly establishing the Federal welfare state created by President Lyndon B. Johnson, presiding over forced busing, abusing the power of the presidency, etc.
Hating Nixon: The Untold Story
The American Left has always despised him because, post-Eisenhower, they despise all Republicans. They really hated him because he was an excellent politician, able to use the media against itself.
This is similar in some ways to President Trump. He appealed to populism through this “silent majority” and through a judo-esque tactic used the media’s own weight against itself.
They couldn’t (and still can’t) argue against him in principle because his public policy was progressive.
And compared to President Johnson (who set the precedent for wire tapping) Nixon was a choir boy. Watergate mattered, but not in the catastrophic way that the media has always maintained.
In other words Nixon was, to put it mildly, a big deal.
Nixon left an indelible mark on America. He was a divisive, paranoid man who wielded great power outside of party lines, an equal opportunity offender who believed he was serving God and neighbor.
In many ways this makes him a mirror image of Cash. They were both rebels who refused to bend the knee. This may seem like a stretch to some, but it’s a version of the truth much closer to reality than the standard Hollywood narrative about either soul.
These men were dark giants of their respective realms. To try to co-opt either for political purposes does them both a disservice.